On Letting Go of the Things We Can’t Change


CompetitionI met with a new doctor yesterday. I’ve been interviewing them like babysitters lately.

“Do you believe there is such a thing as a mood disorder?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied. “At least in language there is.”

“When and why did you decide to break from conventional medicine and practice a more holistic approach?

“Eight or nine years ago. I was tired of looking at the lists of medications people were taking. I couldn’t, in good conscience, prescribe meds to treat the side effects of other meds.”

“Do you believe that manic depressives should stay on their medicine or wean off all synthetic drugs?”

“I think if you’ve had a truly manic experience, it can be dangerous to start weaning off. Each person is different.”

He passed my test. More or less.

This guy is a holistic MD with a license in internal medicine, which means he will prescribe for me the Nature-Thyroid medicine that makes me think more clearly and gives me more energy, but that conventional doctors dismiss as mashed-up animal parts that have no data supporting success.

I am averaging about four new doctors per year because I have four serious issues— a pituitary tumor, thyroid disease, bipolar disorder, and aortic valve regurgitation/arrhythmia—and none of my conventional doctors wants to acknowledge anything that lies outside of her “expertise.” I’m searching for someone who will at least consider peaking at my x-rays and blood tests done for other doctors so that he can gain a comprehensive view.

The doctor in front of me has potential.

He goes on to evaluate me and hears my heart murmur and arrhythmia.

“I’m not so concerned about that,” I said.

“What are you concerned about?” he asks.

“I haven’t had death thoughts in 45 days. That’s pretty remarkable in my world,” I explained.

He seemed taken aback. Most doctors are, I think, when you afford them a peak inside your brain.

“Do you want copies of these tests?” I asked. I am flipping through a manila folder full of 25 lab results, stool analyses, reports on everything from food intolerances to imbalanced flora in my intestines.

“Yes, please,” he says. He senses my frustration.

I am emotionally withdrawn because I don’t want to get my hopes up again and start believing that doctors have magical powers, that this guy can cure me of my ongoing battle with depression with a winning combination of supplements that line the wall outside his office door. If he prescribes me the thyroid medicine, that will be worth the $300 my appointment with him costs.

“What are you reading?” he asks me, looking at the book on the couch next me.

“The Way of Serenity,” I say. “It’s about the serenity prayer.”

“The Serenity Prayer is like a triathlon, divided into three legs: swimming, biking, and running,” I begin to explain. I’m not sure why I’m going into this, but he has just asked me if I still get my period every month and how old I am, so I figure why hold back on my take on the serenity prayer.

“I need a little help with the first part,” I admit. “Accepting the things I cannot change. I’m much better with the second part—changing the things I can. I mean, I’m here, right?”

If there were a gold medal awarded for whole-hearted attempts on changing the things you can in terms of living with a mood disorder, I think I would be in the running. Not many people have tried over 50 medication combinations, over 50 different natural supplements, acupuncture, and every kind of therapy; eliminated dairy, gluten, alcohol, caffeine and sugar; run or swim every day, drink kale smoothies every morning, use light therapy, and graduated from meditation school; oh yeah, and set up a support group online for people with depression and anxiety.

Yesterday afternoon—the interview, the manila folder full of test results, the fact that I haven’t given up the search for a doctor who can piece together my many ailments in order to offer an integrative perspective–should be proof that I’m continually working the second leg of the Serenity Prayer.

However, the first part?

I’m pretty sure I’d be disqualified on that event.

My first reaction when something proves to be out of my control is to try harder, to force whatever is derailing my health or my agenda to cooperate through more discipline, better habits, a better policy.

As Jonathan Morris writes in “The Way of Serenity,” “Letting go of things that really do need fixing can feel like injustice, irresponsibility, or indifference on our part.” Yes. It feels that way to me. If someone writes to me and says he can’t afford my book, I put one in the mail for him. His situation makes me sad, and I want to do something about it. If I nudge a person to become a member of the online support group that I run and as soon as she does, she is offended by some content and feels violated by some unkind remarks, I take all that to heart and apologize profusely to the woman that she was treated that way. I institute a new policy in the group so that it never happens again.

I tug and tug and tug, like the passage from “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Second Edition” by Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson:

Imagine that the situation you are in is like being in a tug-of-war with a monster. It is big, ugly, and very strong. In between you and the monster is a pit, and, so far as you can tell, it is bottomless. If you lose this tug-of-war, you will fall into the pit and be destroyed. So you pull and pull, but the harder you pull, the harder the monster pulls, and you edge closer and closer to he pit. The hardest thing to see is that our job here is not to win the tug-of-war …. Our job is to drop the rope.

I’m so bad at that, dropping the rope.

It’s ironic, really, that I took “The Way of Serenity” into my appointment, because I had to let go of so many things I wanted to control: like whether or not he has the same perspective on bipolar disorder that I do; whether or not he thinks synthetic drugs are evil; whether or not he can interpret all of my test results with the clarity I hope for. The way he practice medicine is out of my control.

Instead of thinking of more interview questions, I must practice doing nothing: feeling irresponsible, indifferent, and as though I’m causing injustice.

The discomfort I feel in not acting might very well mean I’m getting better at the swim leg of the triathlon, accepting the things I cannot change.

Published originally on Sanity Break, at Everyday Health.

Image: kevincraig.us

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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10 Responses
  1. I know that you hear this a lot but you are truly amazing. Thank you so much for your fortitude in seeking a better life for yourself. And thank you for sharing it with us. I use ACT with the people I work with because it works immediately. I have a new doctor, too. He is my new GP. I like GPs better thsn anyone because they are so busy that they work with me to figure out from my research what we can try next. I hire doctors who know that my health requires teamwork and our working together to unlock the clues to my wellness.

  2. Sean

    Thanks for this Therese! The quote from “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” really hit home. The struggle is so exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I have ten ropes in my hands at the same time with ten different monsters at the end of each one. Thank you for reminding me that not only CAN I drop them, but I SHOULD!

  3. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference”. What a prayer!!

    It has taken me a long time to really understand this prayer completely. Seems like everyday I understand this prayer more deeply. Being sober for almost 5 years now, I have found this prayer to most helpful. I know that for some of us, one might find this prayer religious. Maybe for those of you who do, you can substitue God for Please or just Grant me………….

    It has been a very long, tough last 12 years. When I graduated from nursing school, I was comissioned in the US Air Force as a Second Lieutenant and was assigned to a psychiatric unit at a hospital in Dayton, Ohio. My date of arrival was set for January 9, 1985..I had 6 months from graduation until I began my Air Force career. I moved to Asheville, NC, where my oldest sister lived. Thought it would be nice to stay with her for awhile until I left for Ohio. My first job in Asheville was working on a substance abuse unit, of which I knew nothing about! It was there where I met my now former husband and we married in Feburary, 1985. He was retired Air Force, so he helped me to get out of the Air Force before leaving for Ohio. That was a very hard thing to with all the paperwork, etc. Anyhow, he was one of the counselors on the unit where I worked. I simply loved my job working with recovering alcholics. Little did I know at the time that I would be “one of them”!! Long story short, I learned alot about recovery before I needed therapy myself.

    As I look back over these past 5 years, I realize how God, or to some, my higher power, lead me the whole way, by not going into the Air Force. He was directing me, already, to my recovery by leading me on this path of knowledge.

    I had a tough battle with alcohol, depression and anxiety, but when I was at my lowest, God, or my higher power, stepped in again and told me I had a problem and I needed help, NOW. He picked me up and carried me into the hospital. Though I felt like He had deserted me during my hospitalization at the time, I now realize that He really was there for me and helped me grow stronger and tougher.

    I know that there are some things I can never change, that there are some things I can change and that I am gaining more wisdom to know the difference. And that has not been an easy thing (s) to do!!

    I’ve been working on forgiveness for a long time now, ever since my sister committed suicide in 1990 and I have finally forgiven myself. When I first joined GBB, someone posted somthing concerning the “pain that the person has when one is suicidal”. I thank that person for posting that information. It began to all make sense to me. I was once in pain and wanted to end my life as well. But I couldn’t put a name to the feeling,”Pain”. After reading the post, I realized just how much pain my sister had, with her 2 children alienating from her when she decided to leave her husband. Oh, how she cried everytime we spoke. And I kept reassuring her they loved her and would come back into her life. Her husband and children wouldn’t even talk to me, either. I think, if I had been in her shoes, I would have committed suicide as well. I know now my sister has found peace and is praying for her children, whom she loved with all her heart and soul.

    I can accept my sister’s suicide; I can understand how she felt. I can’t bring her back. But, I do know she rest in peace, God love her!!

        1. My sobriety date is 11/24/1976 and I write about my recovery since 11.2004 at Emotional Sobriety. It seems that some people–the lucky ones–like you, and I, and Therese know that we have to go down to the basement in order to get well. We are so lucky.

  4. Sonomom

    Thank you for your words Therese. Your willingness to write about your struggle so openly and honestly has made a such a difference in my life. Thank you for all you do.

  5. Joanne

    I need to drop the rope on the Mum that left my brother and I at ages 3 and 7. And the step mum that has never understood me and now rejects my daughter because she is not perfect. The first rope is more like a noose around my neck that has carried depression, suicidal tendencies, attempts and now a broken spinal cord. Bad choice of husband and now a special child that my biological mother knows nothing of. I decided to stop torturing myself when I realized she traded us in for an alcoholic jockey. And left us with a puppy that we weren’t able to keep.